Saturday 15 March 2003
Tens of thousands of anti-war protesters worldwide took to the streets on Saturday in the biggest such demonstration since millions of people joined a global march for peace last month.
As the wave of protest began in Asia, organizers in Spain were hoping to draw crowds of more than a million in one of Europe's biggest marches later in the day, matching the number seen in Spain during the global protests on February 15.
Spain's Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has been a staunch supporter of the tough U.S. and British stance on Iraq and will meet President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Atlantic Azores islands on Sunday for crisis talks.
On the other side of the Atlantic, U.S. organizations were counting on tens of thousands of people turning out for a vigil ringing the White House. Other protests were planned in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Buses packed with protesters from more than 100 U.S. cities arrived in Washington for what could be the last chance to dissuade the Bush administration from invading Iraq.
Estimates put the February 15 global turnout at upwards of four million, with some saying as high as 10 million. But this time, with war looking more likely, turnout appeared lower.
Kick-starting Saturday's protests, around 10,000 marched in Tokyo and 3,000 in Bangkok, where pigeons were released into the skies over the Thai capital as a peace symbol. Protests were also reported in Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand.
People burned effigies of Bush in Calcutta, India, while demonstrators chanted: "Raise your hands against U.S. imperialism." Others held up placards depicting Bush as Hitler.
BANNERS AND BARRICADES
In Europe, police said 20,000 Greeks marched to the U.S. embassy in central Athens, with rallies getting going in Scandinavia, France, Britain and elsewhere.
Police were expecting up to 200,000 to turn out across France, with a march setting off in the French capital in mid-afternoon.
French President Jacques Chirac has vowed to use his veto at the United Nations if Washington seeks U.N. backing for a resolution that permits military action against Iraq.
As the Paris protest built up at the Place de la Nation, some wore T-shirts with photos of Bush and the words "Wanted: Terrorist number One." Others had banners with: "Bush, Blair -- The axis of evil."
In Germany, hundreds of anti-war activists staged a sit in protest at a U.S. air base near Frankfurt with the United States uses to transport troops and supplies to the Gulf region. Police carried some of the protesters away.
"Especially now, shortly before the possible start of a war, it is extremely important to make our resistance visible at this central hub for the deployment of troops to the Gulf," organizer Christoph Bautz said.
In the southern city of Nuremberg, about 4,000 protesters held hands to form a five km (three mile) "chain for peace."
In Denmark, police said 5,000 people gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in capital Copenhagen, far fewer than the around 25,000 who showed up on February 15.
"We all know that (Iraqi President) Saddam (Hussein) needs to be stopped, but this is not the way to do it," one middle-aged woman said. "What I'm wondering is who's going to stop Bush? We don't want a war that is about one man's will."
Between 3,000 and 4,000 people turned out in Stockholm, again a far cry from the 35,000 last month.
In London, British Muslims marched on the embassies of the Muslim world, demanding their governments stand up against the push toward war.
"The governments of the Muslim world have the power to stop this war by disallowing America and its allies from using their land, airspace, waterways and logistics to perpetrate it," said march organizer Imran Waheed.
In Iraq itself, there were state-organized marches with thousands of Iraqis vowing to defend Saddam.
"We are your soldiers, Saddam, where will America get through?" youths chanted in Kerbala, home of a Shi'ite shrine. In Baghdad, the crowd burned a U.S. flag.
In neighboring Turkey, several thousand protested against the possible use of Turkish ports and airbases by the U.S. military.
Riot police blocked roads leading to the Mediterranean port of Iskenderun in southern Turkey to try to stop demonstrators gaining access to stores of U.S. military equipment.
Tension over Iraq also sparked protests by Palestinians in Khan Younis refugee camp in the Gaza strip, where 2,000 angry demonstrators shouted "No to the war for oil" and "Save the Iraqi children."
They burned effigies of Bush and Israeli leader Ariel Sharon and set fire to U.S., British and Israeli flags. In Gaza City, several hundred Palestinian women protested. Another 2,000 demonstrated in Nablus, 1,000 in Jenin and a few hundred in both Ramallah and Hebron.
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